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Are Four-Day School Weeks the Answer to Budget Woes?

A school week that only last four days sounds pretty awesome if you’re a kid and a growing number of school children are getting just that. School districts around the country seem to be contemplating the trend of moving to school weeks that either drop a Friday or Monday in an effort to add a little slack to tight budgets.

The move to the four-day school week has found the most interest in rural school districts in states, where running school buses five days a week can be incredibly expensive. The lost day is made up with the other four school days running longer, all in an effort to save money and allow teachers more time to plan lessons.

The Washington Post reports that out of Oklahoma’s 513 school districts, 96 schools adopted the shorter school week schedule in 2016. Though the move to shorter weeks seems to be growing, especially with states with large rural pockets like Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Idaho, it has both educators and parents concerned.

The shift not only throws the rhythm of the five-day week for working parents into disarray, but has many questioning the move’s impact on students' education. “I don’t think it’s right. I think our kids are losing out on education,” Sandy Robertson, a grandmother with four children who attend school in Newcastle, Oklahoma told the Post. “They’re trying to cram a five-day week into a four-day week.”

Several school districts in Minnesota were ordered to drop the four-day school week schedule after academic progress slipped.

While a number of principals have reported a jump in grades, a deal of great concern for many educators is the shorter week’s impact on lower-income families. A large portion of students in the Oklahoma school districts that have adopted the amended schedule qualify for subsidized meals and one less school day could mean a day without breakfast and lunch.

Some school districts like that of Newcastle get extra help from food banks that offer to send students home with food to help tie them over on the long weekends, but others aren’t so lucky.

For David Pennington, superintendent in Ponca City on edge of the Osage Reservation, moving to a four-day week is something he’s trying to avoid for the 70 percent of his students who qualify for subsidized meals. He’s already consolidated bus routes and stopped offering classes like woodshop to help with costs. With four-day weeks being considered for the new school year, he said it’s not a path he wants to go down. “I can’t even remember the last time we sat down and talked about what can we do that’s good for kids,” he said. “Our conversations are what are we going to cut next.”

There’s also the issue of just how effective the four-day school week is at saving costs. Critics of the program say the math doesn’t add up enough to justify the shorter weeks. School finance expert Michael Griffith says that on the surface it might look like schools are saving 20 percent of their busing fees because that’s one day less the buses aren’t in use, but actually the savings are closer to just three percent.

“One thing people thought they would save on is transportation, and there is a potential to save there, Griffith told CBS. “But with the heating and maintenance of a building, what you find is that the power isn’t completely turned off.”

With Oklahoma in the throes of struggling to keep its schools afloat because of years of questionable public policy, moving to four-day school weeks is all some districts can do to retain teachers. The state hasn’t raised teachers’ salaries since 2008 and districts see the extra day off as way to hopefully keep teachers around.

It’s reasons like this that led Griffith who once had a neutral stance on the shorter week policy to change his views, saying that when it comes down to it, it’s done for the benefit of “adults and the school, and not the kids.”

 

Article by Joel Stice, Education World Contributor

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